In November 1994, Republicans took control of the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years. They won 54 seats and defeated 34 Democratic incumbents, including House Speaker Tom Foley of Washington. It was a staggering and historic victory.

Much of it was thanks to Georgia Representative Newt Gingrich, who would become the new House Speaker. Since his 1978 election to Congress, Gingrich had been leading a guerrilla war against Democratic House leadership. Being in the House minority is never fun, but Democrats had grown increasingly dismissive of their Republican colleagues. Throughout the ’80s, Republicans grew restless as they watched Democrats stymie President Ronald Reagan’s agenda. Gingrich rallied the beleaguered GOP behind his “Contract with America” legislative agenda, promising stronger law enforcement, a balanced budget, and tax relief for the middle class.

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Gingrich’s 1994 revolution is the subject of Julian Zelizer’s breezy, fast-paced new book, Burning Down the House: Newt Gingrich, the Fall of a Speaker, and the Rise of the New Republican Party. Zelizer, a Princeton historian and CNN political analyst, sees the 1994 election as an epochal moment. An objective observer might think the Democrats

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